Thursday 14 March 2013
#CBR5 Book 27. "Sonen" (The Son) by Jon Fosse
Rating: 1 star
Jon Fosse is a contemporary Norwegian novelist, poet and playwright and his works have been translated into more than forty languages (which isn't shabby for a Norwegian). He is highly critically acclaimed both nationally and internationally and apparently considered one of the world's greatest contemporary playwrights.
In the play Sonen, or The Son, an elderly couple (most likely living somewhere in the picturesque but often sparse region in the West of Norway - because that's where Fosse sets a lot of his works) go about their daily life in the same monotonous routine as every other day. They keep repeating the same phrases over and over, lamenting the darkness outside (it's worth pointing out that in the winter time, much of Norway barely gets any daylight at all) and the increasing lack of people in their little village. The young people move away to the cities because there is nothing to do, the old people wither away and die. The only light they see is the window of their neighbour's house. They wonder about their son, who they haven't heard from in months.
It seems their widowed neighbour, who is prone to drunkenness, has heard their son was in prison for some unspecified crime. They're not sure what to believe, but as they haven't heard from their son, they are worried and uncertain. When the long lost son suddenly shows up for a surprise visit, they don't know how to relate to him at all. The drunken neighbour's presence doesn't improve things.
The best thing about this play, which is one of the many texts I have to read for my current course, is that it's short. I read it in less than an hour. Having listened to a very interesting lecture, and several of my fellow students discussing the play earlier today convinced me that I wanted to give it a try, even though my previous attempts at Fosse's literary output in assorted short stories left me decidedly unmoved and unimpressed. I doubt I would've bothered finishing the play if I hadn't already listened to a very engaging analysis about it.
Fosse is classified as a neo-Modernist, and there is a lot of things in the play that reminded me of Becket and Pinter, while the play is a lot less absurd than some of their output. Now, I absolutely loathe Modernist literature, and I didn't like the extremely minimalist style in which Fosse writes. Because he leaves immense amounts of things unsaid in every scene, it's up to the reader to interpret and draw his or her own conclusions. There are very sparse descriptions and stage directions, leaving a lot up to the reader (or viewer, in the case of the play). The characters are incredibly passive, and static. Fosse has stated that he cares very little for obvious themes or messages in his works, and that's painfully obvious here.
Very little actually happens in the play. The mother and father are colourless, inscure and spineless. The drunken neighbour is like a malevolent serpent spreading unsubstantiated rumours. One might have a bit of sympathy with the son, but at the same time, the young man has been gone for over six months without any communication with his parents, so no matter how neglectful and inept his parents may have been in the past (and again, most of this is left up to the reader to interpret for themselves), he seems a bit callous and heartless. Then again, if your parents would rather believe unsubstantiated gossip from an alcoholic rather than your word, maybe you'd want to disown your parents too? Based on this play, and the previous short stories I've read, I'm not really interested in exploring more of Fosse's writing. He may be one of the great Norwegian writers of right now, but it's clear it's not for me.